Two Nations Separated By a Common Language: An American’s Experience in Oxford

![Terrible food, awful service, but nice buildings. (Carl J. Kelm/The Stanford Review)](/content/uploads/HPIM2052.jpg)
Terrible food, awful service, but nice buildings. (Carl J. Kelm/The Stanford Review)
The United Kingdom is literally and figuratively stuck in an island between Europe and the United States. They speak our language, avoid the Euro, and tend to support our foreign policy, but also embrace many aspects of the welfare state and the European way of living. The English (and Continental Europeans even more so) do not live in a fast-paced lifestyle in the way that we do. Differences in culture and work habits were most evident in restaurants as service was slower, my perpetual orders of Diet Coke were not refilled for free, and the food portions were smaller. In America, we need quick, efficient service to keep us fueled for the day. In the United Kingdom, time is less valuable. I did not consider myself to be a big eater before my trip began, but I found that in England I was almost never full. This unsatisfying feeling can be accounted for by the fact that the food is not as good and also less abundant. After a couple weeks of eating dining hall food at Magdalen College, I gave up on my meal plan and began eating lunch at Subway on most days. The bland fawn and minced meat could not compete with a fresh American-designed Chicken Teriyaki Sub.

The “customer is always right” mentality largely does not exist in England. Rules are strictly enforced. I remember being at “The Turf,” which is the historic pub where Bill Clinton allegedly “did not inhale” a certain substance while a Rhodes scholar, and being shocked that the bar was closed at 10:31 on Sunday night. After I tried to bargain that I just wanted bottled drinks for my group of friends, the bartender just blankly said “sorry, it’s tradition to close at 10:30 on Sunday.” A nearby customer walked over as if confronting a criminal barbarian and growled at me, “it helps to know the rules, Yankee.” In the United Kingdom, tradition matters more than consumerism. In America, consumerism is our tradition.

I came to Oxford with one goal in mind: get out of the United States for a few months. Having lived over two decades in only this country, I was ready for an adventure. From the onset on the trip, I realized that I was different, and that they knew I was different. It might have been the gym shoes, the shorts, or even the White Sox hat that I wore on my flight across the Atlantic Ocean, but somehow it seemed that everywhere I went people knew that I was an American. This happened before I even opened up my mouth and revealed my Mid-Western accent.

Still, the experience overall was very positive and I would have enjoyed another quarter there if my schedule had worked out. The combination of living in a beautiful, historic city, having tutorials on subjects I enjoyed studying, taking daytrips to London, and sharing a house with 45 other enthusiastic Stanford students was a constantly energizing experience that I will not soon forget. While I enjoyed my quarter, and would not have minded spending extra time in England, in the long run I need a type of environment where my Diet Coke is enthusiastically refilled for free. Thankfully, I get to live in America where such service is possible.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review